Choosing the right cruise for you and your family can be daunting. There are so many factors at play: price, crowd, ship size, port location, and so on and so on. Luckily, Travel + Leisure created a nifty cruise finder tool to help you choose the right one, no matter if you want a relaxing tropical getaway or adventure packed snowy scenery. There is a cruise out there tailor-made for your wants and needs but first, you have to know what your options are and what factors to consider.
1. Where do you want
Used to, the only available cruises were in the Caribbean, greatly reducing access to many Americans, not to mention international travelers. Now it seems there isn’t a place on the globe that a cruise won’t go yet, not every line goes to every destination and some lines are stronger than others in particular areas. In Alaska, for instance, two lines — Princess and Holland America — dominate with seven ships apiece. Carnival, on the other hand, always has been a leader in the Caribbean, with more voyages there from more home ports than any other line.
How long do I want to be away?
This can have a huge influence on which line — and ship — you choose. Some lines, such as Carnival, specialize in shorter cruises of three to seven nights. Others, such as Oceania, rarely offer a voyage of fewer than 10 nights. On the far end of the spectrum, a few lines such as Cunard and Holland America operate annual around-the-world cruises of 100 nights or more.
What’s my budget?
Like hotels, cruises come in a wide variety of price points with features to match. Mass-market lines such as Carnival offer voyages for as little as $399 per person, per week. Luxury lines such as Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas can charge as much as $1,000 per person, per day. Rates also can swing significantly depending on the season and the lead-in price you see in advertisements often is for a small, “inside” cabin without windows onto the sea. You might pay hundreds of dollars more for an outward-facing cabin with a balcony. Also, be warned: The upfront cost of a cruise is only part of the expense, particularly for the less expensive, mass-market lines. While companies such as Royal Caribbean and Princess include most on-board entertainment, activities and meals in main restaurants in the base cost, passengers pay extra for alternative specialty restaurants and drinks. Most mass-market lines also add a gratuity for the staff that can be as much as $12 per person, per day, and there are additional charges for everything from on-board Internet use to shore excursions.
What’s my cruise personality?
Every line has its own personality — and appeals to a different type of person. Carnival, for instance, is known for a gregarious, fun-loving crowd. Celebrity, by contrast, draws a quieter, more style-conscious customer. The two lines operate ships of similar sizes, and often on similar routes and at similar prices, but a regular Carnival customer would likely be miserable on a Celebrity ship — and vice versa.
Am I bringing the kids?
Some lines are much more focused on families than others. In addition to Disney Cruise Line, which has staked its business on families, mass-market lines such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival are leaders in family-friendly cruising, with extensive onboard children’s areas, deck-top water parks, family pool areas and other kid-friendly amenities. In general, the biggest mass-market ships also tend to be the best for families, given the wide range of deck-top activities.
How much do I care about entertainment?
Some lines, such as Disney, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian offer large theaters that stage Broadway-worthy productions such as the musical Chicago and the Blue Man Group. Other lines focus less on on-board entertainment, and the variety and quality of shows even can vary within a line from ship to ship. In general, larger ships offer more elaborate and diverse options than smaller ships, which have less room for large theaters. Some of the smallest ships have no entertainment at all, other than the occasional on-board lecture or port talk.
How important is the food?
Dining always has been a big part of the cruise experience, and many lines pride themselves on their selection of restaurants. That said, some cruise lines place far more emphasis on food than others. Lines such as Oceania, Cunard and Crystal have brought in big-name chefs such as Jacques Pepin, Todd English and Nobu Matsuhisa to create and manage eateries. And diversity also varies widely, with some lines such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian offering more than a dozen restaurants on some ships.
Do I want to get dressed up?
Overall, cruise ships have become a lot less formal in recent years. The days of black-tie nights are virtually gone. But the dress code at sea still varies from line to line. Want to keep it super casual? You might want to go with Norwegian, where the “freestyle” philosophy extends to the dress code. By contrast, on U.K.-based Cunard, formal nights (black tie for men, evening wear for ladies) still take place several times a week, and passengers wear jackets even on casual nights.
No matter what you choose as your
cruise line and destination, it is sure to be an experience to remember!
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